The pickle the apostles were in was this: ...|
This is going to rock your world. No. I mean it. I can fairly guarantee that you've not only never before heard anything like this, you've never even imagined anything like this. And, if you've got any of the spirit of God with you, it's going to give you quite a jolt, testifying to you of its truth, so, a disclaimer first: If you're one of those who think 'the word of God' is some Joel Osteen promise of 'health, wealth, and good times', or a John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) call to 'peace, love, joy, kumbaya (and a jug of hard cider), can't we all just get along', then ... well ... while you do need foundational material inserted at a catastrophic rate, this may still be too much for you, so I'm going to have to suggest that you sign off now, and go spend a decade or two reading and listening to every single word in the scriptures a few hundred times. Not to mention praying, fasting, and learning some ancient languages. (Start with Akkadian.) Then come back. I'll still be here.
Still with me? Don't say you weren't warned.
The pickle the apostles were in was this:
On the one hand, Christ was leaving, promising to return, that his second coming would be something not to be missed, but that there would be false Christs, and that they (the apostles) should not let themselves be fooled by these fakers (who make and love a lie), because that would lead to their doom.
On the other hand, Christ was rough. Very rough. While he was occasionally and surprisingly gentle in his delivery, as with the woman at the well, these were invariably those he appears to have deemed too blind and childlike to know any better. You don't whip a child for not knowing better than to put brown sugar in the Kool Aid. A head cook, on the other hand, can probably expect to feel a spatula upside his head. And that's just what the apostles got on a regular basis.
Christ was widely known as, to paraphrase it, the hangin' rabbi. We'll talk about that and the woman brought to him for judgement some other time, but the point of the story is that he did not forgive her. He wasn't that kind of guy. He was strict. Very strict. Especially with his peers. The woman with the issue of blood was taking her life in her hands, and nearly lost it. She was saved only because her act of faith, and resultant healing, and its usefulness to Christ as an example to the rest, provided Christ an opportunity to pardon her. A woman does NOT touch a rabbi, and certainly not THIS rabbi. The punishment would have been stoning, and that rabbi would have seen to it.
If you don't know this Christ, you're not reading the scriptures. You're letting biases and prejudices planted in you by others blind you to the truth.
At the temple, at the age of 12, was pretty much the last time we would see a gentle, calculating Christ. Notice his response to Joseph, "I'm doing MY FATHER's work." (wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Get it? Eh? You're not really my father, and we both know that, but I'm going to be very gentle, and not actually say so out loud.)
This would be the last time Christ was that careful of other people's feelings, that subtle in his delivery. After that it was "Oh ye of little faith", "generation of vipers", and "Get thee behind me, Satan!" He even withers a defenseless tree! The Canaanite woman he as much as calls a b**** to her face. (And don't take my word for it. Look it up. Scholars are still struggling with what they still think of as an uncharacteristic move by Christ. If they would read better, they would see that it was anything BUT uncharacteristic. It was in perfect keeping with his character.) He wouldn't even deign to speak to Herod. Probably wouldn't even look at him, either.
You'd call him an arrogant snob who brought it on himself.
Christ was rough on those who ought to have known better. He was far more drill-sergeant than diplomat. It got to the point where his own apostles tried their best to avoid asking him anything beyond things like, 'where are we sleeping tonight?' Read it for yourselves. It actually says they were afraid to ask him this or that. It says they discussed things among themselves. Why? To avoid drawing Christ into it until they absolutely had to. But, Christ, always aware of their debates, would enter the discussion anyway, usually with a rebuke pointing out to them how/why they ought to have been able to figure it out on their own.
Ok. Now. Given that situation, they're now faced with a new reality in that they've seen him several times since his crucifixion, and they have not recognized him even once. Even his own wife didn't recognize him the first time (until he called her by name) (probably in that tone that only he would have ever used with her) (and not so much tenderly as frustrated) (You know, like your parents sometimes did with you when they expected more, and were surprised by your failure) (Not MA ree, but mA rEEE!)
They're now busy trying to figure out how they're going to tell the difference between him when he comes again, and others pretending to be him, when they can't tell him from anyone else now. When they approach the shore on the boat, once again, the discussion begins. We find our valiant heroes with no more imagination than to return to fishing, and they're bringing in a meager haul. But someone on shore gives them a tip that brings in a real haul. (You financial types, pipe down!) They've been in this position before. They know, it could be him. But they just don't recognize him. What to do?
Is that him?
I don't know. Why don't you ask him? (Indeed!)
I'm not gonna ask him. You ask him!
I'm not gonna ask him. Let's just wait and see.
So, after spending a while on the beach, eating fish and bread with this stranger, they eventually conclude that it actually was him. But that after-the-fact guess-work is just not good enough. They're still in a pickle.
A breakthrough is made on the road to Emmaus. A stranger appears among them, and they all have a pretty good time discussing recent events. Christ then, probably very happy with their words, reveals himself, and disappears again. EUREKA! they conclude. WE HAVE A CLUE! Our hearts burned within us (differently than usual). THAT IS HOW WE'LL KNOW IT'S HIM!
Except that this still wasn't enough. Why? Because they didn't get the information they needed until after he was gone again. (And this relates to what Christ said about the spirit not coming until he departed.) The guess-work was now gone; they knew for sure, but they were still facing after-the-fact timing that could get them left behind. They still needed more. So they put their heads together, and they came up with a question to pose Christ with if they saw him again. And this was a question they studied out thoroughly. They were certain the answer was nowhere to be found in scripture. Even the wise men didn't know when Christ was coming the first time until after the fact, after they saw his star. So how could the apostles be expected to know when he'd come again the second time? They were certain they wouldn't get chastized for not knowing. Knowing what? WHEN! THAT is the question. WHEN, Lord, will you return again? We won't be fooled then! We'll mark it on our calendars. We'll all be waiting here with a homecoming party for you. But, what does Christ tell them? "... of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." Well, at least he didn't yell at them, and they were grateful for that, but they still weren't any better off than before. So they must have worked hard on some other question to ask him. They worked hard. They thought hard. They probably even prayed hard. But, of course, you know what answer they got. Crickets. So, they found themselves in a desperate situation. Christ was about to leave, and they still didn't know how to recognize him upon his return. So, just as Christ was about to leave for good, they just had to ask once more. And, in keeping with his true character, the rebuke came: "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power."
Ok, ok, we get the message, but ... wait ... what?! We thought you were the father and/or inherited everything from the father ... You mean, there's still a difference, and that sole difference is time? (Some other time.)
Anyway, so ascension day has arrived. He bids them adieu (literally) but doesn't simply disappear this time. This time, he, the man, ascends into heaven. You know, the very place prophets have said 'flesh can not go'. So, you have to wonder just what it was they saw. Whatever it was, it left them utterly stupefied.
Now remember who these guys are. Were. No. Are. They saw him heal the blind, the lame, the deformed from birth, raise the dead. They saw Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration for crying out loud (an episode the D&C tells us we still don't know the half of). These guys had seen some things. And what was their reaction? Excitement. Peter was giddy with glee on the mount of transfiguration. He wanted to build alters right then. Christ even had to calm him down, saying, basically, Peter! Chill! You haven't seen anything yet. Which kinda prefigures his later comment to another fellow, 'and what if you should see the son of man go back up to where he came from?' (or was that earlier? I forget.)
Well, that's what they just saw on ascension day, and there's no excitement this time. There's no talk of alters. There's no talk at all. They all just stand there gaping into the heavens. Read it for yourselves. That's the scene.
Suddenly, two angels appear. Probably the same two from the tomb. And they snap them out of their bewilderment with the words (paraphrasing) ...
"YO! Do you get it now?" (alerting everyone to the real issue, in case they somehow managed to miss it up to this point.)
"What you just saw when he left is what you'll see when he returns! Think you can sort THAT out from the fakers and frauds?"
Aaaaaaaahhhhh.... We can see the light dawning on them. Something big has just happened.
What did they see? What Joseph said they'd see. Remember the first rule of Algebra, the reflexive rule: If A=B then B=A. If his departure will be like his return, then his return will be like his departure, and Joseph Smith said that his return will be dismissed as a planet/comet (with attendant, cosmic electrical catastrophe, meteor showers, etc.).
Notice also, that this is the point in time predicted by Christ to Peter when Peter is finally converted. ("... when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.") That's right. The prophet. An intimate of the Lord himself, and one who clearly thought, and vehemently protested that he was already converted, was not actually converted until this moment. How do we know? Look at the change in Peter's personality. He went from 'Oh, Lord, call me out onto the water, too', and 'ME?! Know him?! I don't know him!' ... timid, submissive, fearful, anxious ... but that was then. This is now. Now Peter takes charge, and will shortly be back in the temple in Jerusalem defying the authorities, rebuking the very people he once feared, accusing Christ's murderers, calling them to repentance.
This ... is Peter 2.0.
And his audience is shaking in their sandals.
And THIS is the kind of testimony we all need to have before we need it like Peter needed it the night Christ was taken, before we deny the Lord, because, when the barrel of the gun is under your nose, you will be reevaluating everything, questioning everything, thinking thoughts you never thought you'd think.
Peter ultimately felt that the only way he could apologize to Christ for having let him down that night was by dying, too. But Christ told him that, while it would eventually happen, it wouldn't be for a long time. I think Peter worried that it would never come. Legend has it that he was so giddy with glee, once again, that the befuddled Roman soldiers did everything they could to wipe the smile off his face. All they did was make it broader.
THAT is the testimony we'll need. And THAT testimony will only come, as Joseph Smith alluded in his Lectures on Faith, through a detailed understanding of every aspect of God, through knowing, even seeing, what Peter knew, because of what he saw, the day his master left him.